A Conversation With Europe's Ambassadors

Monday, March 21, 2016
Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Matthew Rycroft

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations

Henne Schuwer

Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States

Réka Szemerkényi

Ambassador of Hungary to the United States

Lee A. Feinstein

Dean and Professor of International Studies, School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University Bloomington; Former U.S. Ambassador to Poland (2009-2012)

Introductory Speakers
Rita E. Hauser

President, Hauser Foundation; Chair, International Peace Institute

Matthew Rycroft, ambassador and permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations; Henne Schuwer, Dutch Ambassador to the United States; and Réka Szemerkényi, Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, join Lee A. Feinstein of the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington to discuss the migrant crisis, the future of the Shengen Area, the Brexit referendum, Russian military assertiveness, and the United State’s transatlantic ties as part of CFR’s Symposium “The Future of Europe”. Zoning in on the political, economic, and cultural repercussions of the refugee crisis, all three diplomats offer their take on the evolving state of the EU as it strains to deal with the consequences of an unprecedented crisis on its doorstep.

This event is made possible by the generous support of the Hauser Foundation.

HAUSER: Good evening to all of you. I’m Rita Hauser, as most of you know, and it’s a great pleasure to have you here for what we’re counting now as the seventh of an annual series that we have, sponsored by the Hauser Foundation. And the aim of this series is to pick a relevant subject and bring to the halls of the Council analysts and people of knowledge from other institutions similar to ours, so that we can get an exchange that isn’t just American-centric but presents these very issues from a different perspective. And we have had in the past some very interesting partners—the Institute for Strategic Studies in London; St. Antony’s Middle East Institute; the Lowy Institute from Sydney, Australia on subjects of China; we’ve had a variety of others discussing terrorism and looking at it from a different perspective than our own. And it is really, even for me, very interesting to see how others see the world differently than we do. So I hope you’ll enjoy it and get some education.

We have here some extraordinary people this evening, and particularly tomorrow, because we have representatives this time not of one particular institution, but of a variety of them—from the Polish Institute of International Affairs, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the Center for European Neighborhood Studies from Budapest, King’s College London, the French Institute on Foreign Relations, and Brookings. So you’re going to get a wide variety of views tomorrow.

This evening, we have two ambassadors and one on the way. But it is my great pleasure to introduce for you our interlocutor, who will take the microphone and have a conversation here with two ambassadors. So I’m pleased to introduce to you Lee Feinstein, one of our own, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, and now dean of international studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. So, if you gentlemen will come up to the podium, Lee and our two ambassadors, welcome. (Applause.)

FEINSTEIN: Welcome. It’s nice to be back at the Council.

Thank you, Rita. There you are. Thank you, Rita, for your leadership on global issues, for your years of support of initiatives inside and outside academia, and for your counsel over the years to the United States government. We are all very grateful.

And I’m very pleased to be joined by Matthew Rycroft, the British perm rep to the United Nations who, in addition to a career in leadership positions in the FCO, was once seconded to the U.S. Congress and lived to tell the tale.

RYCROFT: (Laughs.) Just for a few weeks.

FEINSTEIN: See, just a few weeks. That’s how you got out alive. (Laughter.)

And Henne Schuwer, who is the Dutch ambassador to the United States, a veteran of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs now serving his third tour in the United States, including on the West Coast and now twice in Washington, D.C.

As you can see, we have two ambassadors who are keen observers of the transatlantic relationship, and know a bit about the Washington and U.S. scene as well.

We may be joined, FDR permitting, by Réka Szemerkényi, who’s Hungary’s ambassador to the United States since 2014. I’ll say more about her when she arrives. She’s somebody I got to know personally when I was serving in Warsaw.

And that’s an opportunity for me just to say that I’m a former CFR denizen first and foremost, a former policy planner at the Department of State, and former ambassador to Poland, and now dean at the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

So, just some ground rules apart from the usual turn off one’s phone and things like that. But the main ground rule, which may strike fear into the hearts of our sitting ambassadors, is that this event is on the record and livestreamed. But, that said, as this audience knows, we have here among us some of the very best representatives to Washington. And I thank Richard Haass and colleagues for the opportunity to join you today.

So let’s begin with some recent news. Friday—last Friday—the EU and Turkey reached an agreement on a very ambitious and not uncontroversial deal that seeks to limit illegal immigration flows to Europe in exchange for the prospect of visa-free travel for Turkey and progress in EU membership talks. Maybe starting with our Dutch colleague, does this agreement have any realistic chance of holding? (Laughter.)

SCHUWER: The answer is yes, to a—to a certain extent. Let me say two or three things about it.

A, it’s very good that we have a deal. We have been looking for a deal for a long, long time. We have the presidency—the Netherlands—of the EU at the moment. My prime minister has been very active on the scene.

And we were, when we acquired or when we got the presidency 1st of January of this year, we have two major problems on the refugee crisis. One was an uncontrolled flow of refugees coming into the EU. And secondly was, when they are in the EU, what do we do for an equitable distribution of the refugees over the countries in the EU? And we established very quickly that we could not answer the second question—everybody participates in receiving the refugees—if we did not answer the first. We have to have a controlled flow of refugees coming into the EU, and that’s what we focused on. We cannot have our borders be controlled by gangs in Bodrum or on the Turkish coast or in the Libyan coast or whatever, who basically what they used to do with other substances or, let’s say—I know “substance” is not the right word, but these are people who have been trafficking for a long, long time. They traffic drugs before, now they are trafficking human beings. It’s a trade for them. We said, OK, we cannot have that.

So we wanted to make a deal. The only country where you can make a deal with at the moment for this purpose is Turkey. The refugees coming mainly from Syria, from the Syria-Iraq area, Turkey has to be in the mix.

So that’s why we were very happy that we now have a deal with Turkey. Turkey, by the way, who has already somewhere like in between 2 ½ and 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, so they know what it is to receive refugees. And we have received in Europe last year 1 ½ million, roughly, refugees. We want to have a controlled flow. We now have a deal that offers us the possibility of controlling that flow. And I think that is very important because then we can come to the second question, is how we going to divide the refugees in Europe.

FEINSTEIN: So we’re very familiar with this kind of issue in the United States, and I’m not referring now to the presidential campaign, although I will get to that. But, you know, the question of how to regulate in a humane way in many senses of the word the flow of refugees into the country is a difficult one, and striking the balance is quite difficult. But do you feel like this arrangement will allow for a continued flow of refugees who are fleeing really some of the worst imaginable conditions in Syria, and to achieve refuge in Europe?

SCHUWER: May I make one observation to start off, please? You in the United States are familiar with immigrants, not with refugees. There’s a big difference between refugees and immigrants. A refugee cannot go back. If we send somebody back to Aleppo, he might be killed. So we cannot send back refugees. Immigrants, either coming from Northern Africa or in your case from Mexico, you can send back. We have made treaties on refugees which said you are not allowed to send a refugee back. That’s a big, big difference. So we are slightly—I won’t say in a bind, but we are in a different situation here.

Do I think that it will work? It’s too early to tell, let’s be honest. I think it will depend very much on the willingness of the Turks and the Turkish government to work with us. Secondly, it will work very much—it will depend very much on the willingness of the Europeans to put a border security guard in place, which we are trying to do—4(,000) or 5,000 people within a month—to be able to control people. We always—it’s not that we are building a “Fortress Europe.” We are receiving them. We are looking who they are. If they are true refugees, they will—say if they are undocumented, illegal refugees, they go back to Turkey. And then you know that the exchange system—one, let’s say, illegal Syrian, and we’ll take a legal Syrian back. And if they are immigrants—economic immigrants—they’ll go back to the country where they came from.

So it is an enormous process. It’s really—it will require a gigantic effort on the European Union side to control this. But we have made a blueprint. At least we have made a—we know what we’re going to do. Can we implement it? I hope so.

FEINSTEIN: Well, thank you. And, of course, your government had played a leading role in trying to find a humane solution that’s sustainable over time.

If I could maybe talk to our British colleague about—when our Hungarian friend arrives, we’ll try to integrate her into this discussion as well—but about the future of Schengen. You know, really, we were discussing just before this meeting how this is really at the very center of the European experiment. And, of course, there are provisions when one can close borders temporarily, and that’s taken place. But we’ve heard a lot of different statements from different kinds of European leaders and governments, none represented on this stage at this moment, with very varying attitudes about how to respond. So if Schengen finished? Is it viable? Are there efforts underway to rethink Schengen and what it ought to look like, given the realities that Europe is facing?

RYCROFT: Well, thank you very much for inviting me to CFR. It’s very good to be here and see so many people.

I will answer that question, but can I just first of all say a quick word about Turkey—

FEINSTEIN: Absolutely.

RYCROFT: —and the EU and migration? Because there are—well, there are many things that we need to do, but here are three things that need to be done in order to help tackle the refugee and migration crisis in Europe, and they all involve Turkey.

The first is to solve the political crisis in Syria that is the source of so many of the refugees coming in Europe. There is no way that we will reach a political settlement on Syria without Turkey’s full involvement.

Secondly, we’ve got to find a way of keeping as many refugees and migrants as close to Syria as possible so that when peace does come to Syria—and it will, eventually—those Syrians can return to their country and help rebuild that country. And that is why, at the London Conference last month on Syria, we paid particular attention to Turkey, as well as to Lebanon and Jordan. And between us, the international community was more generous than we have ever been on a single day—we pledged $11 billion on one day for one issue, which we’d never done before. And Turkey was a significant part of that, again, because we want to allow refugees who come out of Syria to stay as close to Syria as possible for the day when it returns—when they can return.

And thirdly, if we are going to tackle the migration and refugee crisis in Europe, we need to change the business model of the human traffickers. We need to put them out of business. We need to make it disproportionately difficult and expensive, in all senses of the word, for them to carry on their trade, which is—which is causing such misery. And again, we cannot do that without Turkey.

So that’s why I think that the European Union was right to reach out to Turkey and to do this very difficult negotiation, the implementation of which is ahead of us. But I think the idea of it was a very positive one.

Now, on Schengen, I’m probably not the right person to ask because the U.K. is not in Schengen and is not in the euro, and Schengen and the euro are the two big integrationist experiments, or steps, that the European Union has taken in its history. For those of you who are not familiar, Schengen is the border-free travel within—how many countries is it now in continental Europe? Anyway—

SCHUWER: Continental Europe—continental Europe is 26.

RYCROFT: No, but how many are in Schengen? It’s not—

SCHUWER: Twenty-one.

RYCROFT: Right. So 21 countries in Europe where, once you’re in one of them, you can travel around the rest of them without a—without a passport. And the U.K. being an island, we have always had a different balance, if you like. We have always had a—just culturally, we’ve had a tougher test to get into the country, traditionally. But then, once you’re in, we have no tests at all. We don’t have a tradition of police being able to stop people on the street and just ask them to see—to see their ID cards or anything like that, which is—and there’s an opposite tradition in parts of continental Europe, where it’s relatively easy to get in, but once you’re in you might get stopped by a policeman if you look as though you aren’t from that country. And that cultural difference is one of the reasons why the U.K. has never signed up to the Schengen agreement.

Is it—is it destined to fall apart? No, I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t say that. But I do think that, you know, extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. And so having some form of flexibility at difficult times in order for individual nation-states within the Schengen area to reestablish those border controls, that must make sense just in terms of the—of the politics of Europe at the moment.

FEINSTEIN: And so, if I could ask my Dutch colleague, who is directly affected, what his—what your thoughts are about this.

SCHUWER: Schengen is part of, let’s say, still I think the DNA of the European Union. It’s one of the four freedoms on which the European Union is built. And I must say, Schengen has already inbuilt in a system some, in any case, levers for if things go—will become very, very difficult, like you can suspend Schengen for a six-month period if it becomes very, very troublesome. It is clear, I think, to everybody at the moment that Schengen—we have to take a closer look at Schengen and see if it’s still viable for the present EU. But I would totally agree with my British colleague: Schengen will not go away, so to say. Schengen is a part of why the European Union is the European Union.

And I’m coming from a country which is a trading nation. I can tell you we do 40 percent of the inland water transport and 25 percent of the road transport. Schengen is vital for us.

FEINSTEIN: And while we’re—while we’re with our Dutch colleague, I had a question for you about something that may not be on everybody’s radar screen, but which we also talked about in advance a little bit earlier. Just in a few weeks’ time, there will be a referendum—in April—on whether the Dutch support or oppose a(n) EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement. And right now—things could change, but right now it looks like the “no” votes are ahead, or it’s close, depending on what polls you look at.

You know, there was an extraordinary unity across the Atlantic in the response to the illegal annexation of Crimea, and we talked about the two-year anniversary of the occupation. So what does this say about Dutch attitudes towards the situation in Ukraine? About—and is it that people in the Netherlands have lost confidence in the ability of the Ukrainian people to get their act together? Is it a sign that people are more preoccupied with the issues we’re discussing, at home? Are people looking to improve relations with Moscow? Or what? How are we to understand this?

SCHUWER: Well, I don’t think—certainly not improve relations with Moscow, because you might remember we are the country of the MH17, the plane that was shot down over eastern Ukraine, where 192 of my fellow citizens lost their lives, and we have a certain idea of who might be behind it. That report will come out in the summer.

So it’s—it underscores my idea that I don’t think this is a referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine. This is a referendum on our relationship with the EU. And that’s the problem with referenda, they very seldom go over the actual issue. They are hijacked by people and there is another issue put in front. And this, I think, is a general issue: Are we happy with the way that we are being governed by a distant body in Brussels, which his distant from The Hague, our capital, and is one up from The Hague? And it’s a little bit, you know, what they make the Association Agreement without actually consulting us—which is not true, because the government has to approve and the parliament has to approve. But still, there are things happening in the EU which are happening without us having a direct influence on the decision-making process. And that’s unfortunately. And I think telling is they have a guest speaker, a big thing going on on the 1st of April, and guess who is the guest speaker coming from the U.K.? Nigel Farage, who had nothing to do with Ukraine and everything to do with the relationship between the individual member states and the EU. And that’s why he has been invited, because that’s the real issue of the vote.

FEINSTEIN: That’s very interesting, and perhaps that gets us to other questions about the relationship with Europe and the EU, a question with which, Ambassador, I know you are no doubt ready to answer, looking always to the—

RYCROFT: Depends what it is. (Laughs, laughter.)

FEINSTEIN: —to the upcoming referendum, which the prime minister has announced, on whether Britain should remain in the EU. The vote is just around the corner. I should say my wife is a Scot. (Laughter.) She refuses, by the way, to get her American citizenship, but I’m working on that. But I do—I do—I am aware of how families are, among themselves, divided on some of these kinds of questions, even where you might not expect divisions. So these are very deeply felt issues, I’m sure. So I guess the first question I might have for you is, what does the deal that the prime minister achieved with the EU have on the—on the British electorate?

RYCROFT: Thank you. So, yes, so the U.K. has a referendum that really is about our relationship with the European Union. And it’s on June the 23rd, so it’s only three months away. And Prime Minister Cameron secured an agreement with the other leaders of the European Union, and it’s on the basis of that reformed relationship with the EU that he strongly supports the U.K. remaining in the EU.

Some of the highlights of that agreement. First of all, this phrase “ever closer union” will not apply to the U.K. This has become a totemic issue for large parts of Europe because it’s used as a—as a reason for continuing the tide of continual integration. And so removing that from applying to the U.K. means that there’s no reason why the direction of travel needs to continue to be towards integration. It could just as well be a move back, a flow back from—of power from the European Union level back down to each of the member states.

Secondly, there are protections for the pound and the city of London. As I said earlier, the U.K. has not joined the euro and will not do so in the foreseeable future. And the prime minister secured arrangements that allow the U.K. to continue to use the pound and for us not to be biased against in any agreements amongst the countries that use the euro.

Then there are issues related to the migration debate that we’ve just been talking about. And essentially, it’ll make—it’ll be harder for certain categories of migrants entering the U.K. to be paid benefits from the state before they have paid into the state.

And there are—there are a whole load of other points, but those are some of the key ones.

At its heart, this is—this is a question about the future identity of the United Kingdom. Do we see ourselves as a country that wants to remain in the EU, or do we want to leave the EU? And as you suggest, Lee, this is a divisive issue in the U.K. If you look at the polls, the latest are broadly 50/50. Some recent polls, in fact, have the “leave” vote edging ahead. If you look at the bookies, if you follow the money, you will see that they continue to think that the U.K. will vote to remain in the EU. Either way, this is a huge choice for the British people, including those who live abroad provided they register in time, and it’s coming up just around the corner.

If we vote to leave, we will leave. And there is only one way to leave, and there’s an article in the—in the EU treaties, Article 50, that gives a two-year period for negotiation. So if we vote to leave on June the 23rd, then we will leave the EU within those two years. There is a possibility of extending that negotiation if it’s necessary, if every single country agrees. But for the sake of argument, it’ll be a two-year period.

If we vote to remain, we will need to continue to reform the EU—not just on the areas that I’ve mentioned, those three, but also in things like competitiveness—you know, making sure that the EU gets rid of the red tape and the bureaucracy for which sometimes it is—it is known; making sure that, as the largest single market in the world, that it can really play its part in the world economy, in the global economy. And you can sum up the case for remaining in the EU, which is the government’s case, that in this new reformed EU, the U.K. will be stronger and safer and more prosperous by remaining in.

FEINSTEIN: Henne, how is this issue viewed from your perspective in terms of the debate and the possibility that Britain might well leave the EU?

SCHUWER: Two things.

A, the Netherlands has always been a very strong advocate of the U.K. in the EU. We were the ones who, when the—when the U.K. wanted to join the EU, have been fighting against the French, who were opposed. We wanted an ally in the EU, an ally next to the Germans and the French. We are very close to the EU. It’s one of our main trading partners. But more importantly, we think the same about a number of issues—internal market, international trade, et cetera. So I think that it’s maybe telling that the deal was made during the Netherlands’ presidency. There was a lot of contact.

We think that the deal is fair. Very much in your vein, I’m a Dutchman. I’m a cyclist. I know that if you stop pedaling at a certain moment, you will fall over, unless you are a very accomplished cyclist and you can do sheer-plus (ph), as it’s called. But OK, you don’t will keep that up forever. That’s a little bit what the EU has been. We have been going on with making laws and more laws and more laws. And I think at a certain moment we have to take a step back and say, you know what, this is all—we have been, by now, descended to the level of legislating the size of olive oil bottles. Not necessary anymore.

So how will it be perceived? I think we would very much like the U.K. to be in there. I think the U.K. would be very well advised to stay into the EU, because still it’s more than 50 percent of their exports go to the EU. They are, in the end, although being an island—and when the fog is there, the continent is isolated—but they are a European country and they have been part of our European history. So I think for very many reasons, I think the U.K. should stay in. And we would like to have a friend in the EU debate which we have.

FEINSTEIN: I’ll ask one more question and then I’d like to open up to our colleagues in the—in the audience.

There’s a lot of talk—there was a recent article, an interview with—based on an interview with President Obama in The Atlantic, and over the course of the eight—last eight years or seven years, a discussion about the nature of the transatlantic relationship, the degree to which the United States is focused on that, the degree to which the United States has turned its attention elsewhere. I’d like to engage you a little bit in this discussion and, in light of the challenges that the EU is facing, from your perspective, the directions you would like to see transatlantic relations headed in the future. And as a footnote to that, the degree to which the elevated debate during the American presidential campaign affects your views about the prospects for the future of a close transatlantic relationship going forward. And perhaps we’ll go in reverse order, please.

RYCROFT: I want—I want to kick off by talking about my day job, which is British ambassador to the United Nations. I spend most of my time in the Security Council, because the U.K. is one of five permanent members of the Security Council, and another is the United States. And there are 10 nonpermanent countries at any one time.

The 15 of us sit in alphabetical order. The U.K. is always next to the United States. So Samantha Power, my American opposite number, sits right there. And we, you know, pass each other notes and say little jokes and things, usually during the boring bits. (Laughter.) And for me, that is the embodiment of what I would call a special relationship.

It’s certainly a very close transatlantic relationship where we don’t agree on everything but we agree on a huge amount, and where we are stronger the closer we are able to work together. And certainly for all of my diplomatic career—I’ve been brought up, really, as a diplomat thinking that the U.K. interest is best served by having a strong—not a completely uncritical but a strong relationship with the United States, alongside our relationships in Europe. And that is what we seek to do at the Security Council.

And I think many in Europe are still trying to get used to the idea of this leadership from behind, or whatever phrase you want to use, particularly the Middle East. That’s the area where, in the past, successive U.S. administrations have been much more directive, including with European allies, about what exactly the right answer is. And that hasn’t always been straightforward by any means. And of course you have to be careful what you wish for. I think a lot of Europeans had wished for a bit more space in the Middle East, and I think it’s been very difficult for them to fill that space.

And as a result, I think we are still trying to get used to the idea of how best the European powers—particularly the U.K. and France as permanent members on the Security Council, but all of Europe, including countries like the Netherlands that have such a strong and proud record externally outside the borders of Europe, making a difference, making the world a better place. And I just think it’s still up in the air. And of course there’s a lot of uncertainty this year as we look ahead.

Finally, just to bring it back again to the United Nations, I think the fact that we don’t know what is going to happen next year is an argument to get done everything that we can this year. We know what we have this year. We have what is probably the most pro-U.N.-engagement U.S. administration that any of us can remember, and so we may as well get on and use that alliance in the U.N. and elsewhere for maximum impact in 2016.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

SCHUWER: Our generation has grown up with the certainty of a transatlantic relationship. This was forged after the Second World War, where they say my country was liberated by the Americans and the Canadians. The biggest war grave outside, I think, the U.S. and maybe—is in the Netherlands, where more than 8,300 Americans are being buried. So we were over—there was a certainty of the transatlantic relationship.

I think that certainty—and we have to be honest, after 70 years—more than 70 years after the end of the Second World War you cannot keep counting on that certainty, not meaning that the United States will leave, but I think that we have to get into a different gear to know that the United States is like with your parents. They will not always be there. The United States will not always be there. So I think that we have to—we discussed with the United States the relationship between Europe and the United States.

Secondly, we have scolded, during the Bush period, the United States for a too interventionist policy. Now we’re scolding the United States in the Obama period for a noninterventionist policy. What we would like to see is that the pendulum swings and stops in the middle, from here to there and now in the middle, where we will have to play our part, as Europe and especially—exactly as Matthew said. Yes, there is time. There is a space for Europe. We have to redefine the space for Europe.

FEINSTEIN: Well, thank you very much.

And we have a very dramatic entrance. (Laughter.) Réka Szemerkényi from Hungary, my former colleague and friend who was—has been ambassador to the United States from Hungary since 2014, a very interesting career in and out of think tanks, as a consultant to the World Bank, an expert on energy, expert in the private energy sector, and as I said, pleased to have been a guest of mine at my residence once upon a time in Warsaw.

We’ve been talking about a lot of things, and you just arrived so we’ll just ask a question or two of you and then give our colleagues in the audience a chance to talk.

We began our discussion about migration. And obviously your government had some specific views about migration and the refugee crisis that’s affected all of Europe. And I guess our question for you would be, how—your government’s views on this issue, in light of some of the statements of President (sic; Prime Minister) Orbán differ from some others. He’s had a stronger—a much stronger view, obviously, about whether or not it’s wise for Europe to continue to let immigrants in.

And maybe if you could talk about it in the context of the recent deal on Friday between the EU and Turkey to stem the flow of illegal migrants into Europe, and the degree to which that begins to address some of your country’s concerns.

SZEMERKENYI: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. And I apologize for being late. We were sitting on the tarmac for about an hour-and-a-half, two hours in Washington, D.C. They wouldn’t let the plane leave. So I apologize. And instead of landing here at 4:00, I really ran in from the airport.

But I very much appreciate the opportunity and the very kind invitation. And I was very much looking forward to the discussion because I think it’s really very, very topical and very important that we do try to understand each other as best as possible because the challenges are immense, I think. And the consequences of all the decisions that we’re making today are going to be with us for the next 15 to 20 years, definitely. So I think this is a very, very important topic.

And thinking back of your wonderful residence in Warsaw, where I really had the pleasure and the honor to have been hosted several times, so, in retrospect, at those times I think we would never have thought that we were going to face the challenges that we’re facing now in Europe.

And the problem, of course, I think in many ways is that the way we understand it in Central Europe—and you can see it increasingly sort of being put into practice as well—is that not only is this a challenge that is unprecedented in European history and something that has never occurred to any of the countries or the continent in general—I’m sure you have spoken about the numbers, but I think the ones that we have been feeling is that, in comparison, of course, the 391,000 people that have entered through Hungary—because we have been really on the land route for the migration wave towards the continent—if you compare it in population ratio of Hungary to that of the population ratio of the United States, that would equal a good—I’m sorry, 12 million people coming into the United States within 12 months without papers, without any documentation, the large majority—a large majority not very willing to cooperate with the registration process, as we have been witnessing this of a certain—after a certain point.

The problem, of course, and the challenge that comes from this massive wave of people is not only that it hit us also in many ways unprepared, and the logistical help that we had to set up took some time—and of course it took a lot of effort to understand the real needs of these people—but also, what we could see is that there is such a massive range of challenges that come with this massive wave that we have to be understanding very clearly every single one of them to be able to develop the right answers.

First, of course, what came under challenge was the freedom of internal movement of the European Union. And that, I think, is what we could see increasingly and most recently. The biggest achievement of the European integration process, something that’s, you know, left, right, up and down, all across the European Union, is the thing that everybody appreciates most: to have that passport-free travel ability.

And of course the security challenges are massive also. What you can see is the lack of understanding of the security concern has been characteristic of the discussions in Europe. And I think that really shows the need for more security sort of finesse and more security understanding and awareness of the importance of these. And Europe had been in a very comfortable position for the last 50 years, if I may say, of not really having to focus on strategic issues, and thinking all the time that all the security challenges are going to kindly avoid the continent and hit the U.S. directly, or hit the Middle East, or hit some other parts of the world but not us.

So I think this period is definitely over. And I think what comes with it is a challenge of the political stability of the continent, which you can also see, that there is a massive repercussion for the mainstream parties as well, which are seen as unable to develop the real answers for the solution. So you can see the increase of fringe parties in Europe in many countries across the board.

I think, if I may say just two more—or, you know, two more sentences on what we think is the problem with the current situation, is that what you can see as a result of this sort of multiple-level challenges and pressures, it is very dangerous to see the discussions that are going on in Europe, because what you can see is a number of misconceptions, or some say illusions, that we’re living with or that we’re discussing since the beginning of this refugee crisis.

First was that—the first sort of misconception or illusion, if you like, is that this is just a refugee crisis so the answer has to be humanitarian. Well, we can see that this is a lot more complex crisis, so the answer cannot be simply and solely humanitarian. It needs a lot more understanding of the real character of the crisis.

The second is that the migration crisis is what we have seen in the continent. The migration crisis is—what we see is just another problem in front of us and we solve it by distributing the refugees in the EU and then move on. Well, in our understanding, the first wave of the migration crisis is what’s behind us. It’s not slowing down and it’s not over yet. We’re seeing a lot more to come. So this year is going to increase the challenge and the pressure is going to increase. It’s a grave error to think that if we distribute the current numbers of people, fine, we’re good and we can sort of see the next challenge of the continent.

The third big misconception I think is that—what we can see also especially in the media, of course that not allowing everyone in Europe is cruel and xenophobic. I think it’s just a very dangerous misconception, because obviously nobody is saying that all the migrants coming into Europe are terrorists. It would be very silly. But it would be equally silly to assume that none of them have any links to organizations that are unfriendly to the security structures of our countries.

And the fourth, I think, which is also getting into—we’re getting into the more sensitive part of the discussion, is that we have this very massive misconception in the European context that the opening of the borders will create a seamless, integrated, multicultural society, happily living together ever after. This is really very sensitive and touches a number of issues that are non-PC probably, but also that are clearly visible on the continent.

One of these, I think, is that what we have seen is the development of—in several countries and in several places of parallel societies. It’s not the type of social structures that we have been thinking of when we were talking about, you know, multiculturalism or the integration of these people. And definitely the EU track record on integration, you know, is mixed at best, so I think we have a lot to think about. And what we can see is that the harming of the social cohesion is going to have other repercussions for the political stability in the—in the countries of the continent as well.

So, with this as opening, if I may say—(laughs)—just a few food for thought. I think it’s very important that we do sort of start to discuss the real issues that are developing on the continent.

FEINSTEIN: All right. Well, we appreciate your perseverance in coming here, and you’ve added a lot. So I’m going to suggest that we go straight to our colleagues and see how much we can squeeze in, in the next 15 minutes, because I know we’re on a tough clock.

So, sir, in the back. And please wait for the microphone. Identify yourself. And I’ll keep a list.

Q: Herbert Levin, a Council member.

I appreciate the remarks about how to handle the flow of people from the Middle East, et cetera. I wonder if I could ask you to look a little bit further into this question.

And you may correct my question as being a poor one, and that is the only three countries in that area with internal coherence—the Egyptians, the Turks, and the Iranians—the Egyptians are without influence elsewhere because of internal incoherence. And that would unfortunately be the case for the foreseeable future. They also are not a menace to anyone. The Turks have a lot of coherence and have quite a view—if you’ve been in Ankara, they have quite a view as to how to handle Arabs, because they have an imperial inheritance. And the Iranians—some of us are not preoccupied with Shi’ism. They’ve been there a long time and they have a view how to handle the Middle East, which may not be our view.

But the point is, you’re not going to have any coherence in that part of the world unless the Europeans and maybe even the Americans understand you only have three real countries to work with. Would you please tell me why my—the question is very stupid? (Laughter.)

FEINSTEIN: Let me, for the sake of speed and getting a number of commentators in given the limited amount of time, go to our second questioner right here in the front. We’re taking notes. We haven’t forgotten your question.

Q: Thank you. Alan Blinken, former ambassador, United States, to Belgium.

I was in Belgium when President Clinton suggested the entrance into NATO of Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. I’m wondering, with the possible weakening of the EU, are there any cracks in the togetherness of NATO, which protects us all?

FEINSTEIN: OK, and we’re going to do one more right here, just so you don’t have to walk across the room.

Q: Thank you very much. Laetitia Garriott. You mention keeping the refugees close to Syria. Can you share more thoughts on the idea of extraterritorial processing of visa in Jordan, in Lebanon, versus in-country processing once the refugees have reached Europe?

FEINSTEIN: OK. Would anybody like to take a stab at the Middle East question? (Laughter.) All right, we’ll hold that until the end, but I’m not—we won’t leave that one lying. The questions are about NATO cohesion, and particularly in light of the newer members. Please.

SCHUWER: I can do the NATO. I’ve been, for three years, director of the Private Office of the Secretary General of NATO between 2006 and 2009, so NATO is dear to my heart.

NATO has an enormous advantage being a very focused organization. It is about the defense of the transatlantic sphere. So I think that NATO is far more coherent, in a way, than the European Union is. NATO has a real enemy again. I think when I was there, the problem was that, who is the enemy? And there was the peace dividend and how are we going to divide the peace dividend? I won’t say that I am very happy with what’s happening in Russia, but it has given the NATO a new sense of purpose.

I think that the main question at the moment for NATO is where will our emphasis be, on the eastern flank or on the southern flank? Is there a role for NATO to play in the southern flank of Europe? Is there a role for NATO to play in the Middle East peace process? And in the end, would there be, let’s say, boots on the ground if there would be some sort of a solution in Syria or in the Middle East peace process? And up until now NATO is very hesitant in that.

The eastern question is very simple. It’s an Article 5 question. We are—or some NATO members are being threatened from the east. Article 5 says if you are attacked—if one of us is attacked, we will all defend you. That is rock solid, and therefore I think NATO will be here to stay for a long, long time.

FEINSTEIN: And, Réka, if I could ask you, does your government also believe that it has an enemy again in Russia?

SZEMERKENYI: Of course what has been happening in Ukraine over the last two years is definitely something that has hit and has hurt a lot of our national securities. That’s very clear. And that’s so clearly a problem for the international legal system, in thinking that we have—that we have to respond to it. And we definitely are interested, of course, with every one of—member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that we have to work together and that we have to strengthen our common transatlantic security area further as we go along. In history, very much sort of the transatlanticist trend in domestic politics as well, so I think it’s very clear.

There is a very clear other understanding, as well, I think, that is also important, is that what we would like to see is that we need to make sure that we will sort of work for a situation in which Russia is going to come back to being a partner in which—with which we can cooperate. And I think that relations between Russia and the NATO countries is really on so many multiple levels, that Ukraine is one of them. The fight against ISIS is another one. Iran and the questions of the Middle East, of course, are yet another aspect of this. So I think it’s a very complex relationship in which we have multiple stakes.

We also have seen that the dependence that we had on Russia in the energy sector is not something that is easily changeable. We have been working on this. We would have needed, of course, a stronger international sort of cooperation of the understanding of this dependence. But we’re still living on this as landlocked countries. You know, we’re few of us, but the ones that are landlocked have a different situation from those that have access to sea and that can develop their own access to the world markets, on energy imports as well, which is what we could see in Poland with the development of the Świnoujście terminal, or in the Baltics as well. I think, you know, geopolitics does matter in energy, of course, also.

So yes, we very much are interested in strengthening the security area that we live in. This is why I think we have been fighting for before 1990 as well. And at the same time, we would like to see a Europe in which the regional network of the European sort of energy infrastructure as well helps the stability of the entire continent.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.


RYCROFT: Let me briefly answer all three, starting with that point about Russian energy.

Dealing with Russia is the worst single issue for the EU in terms of foreign policy, because the national interest of the different EU countries is so divergent, because our energy dependency from Russia varies from zero percent to 100 percent. In other words, some EU countries are completely dependent on Russian oil and gas and others are not at all dependent.

And so creating a single common policy on sanctions or how to respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea or its occupation of Eastern Ukraine, there is a very different starting point for each of the EU countries, which are why it’s been so difficult and yet so important to reach—to forge a consensus.

The U.K. view is very firmly that—I don’t think we use the phrase “enemy” to describe Russia, but we do think of Russia as our biggest strategic threat, or one of our biggest strategic threats. And it is a threat. It’s a threat to NATO. It’s a threat potentially to the territorial integrity of countries other than Ukraine, some of which are in NATO. And it’s absolutely crucial. The answer to your question is that, no, NATO isn’t crumbling. I very much agree with our Dutch colleague that NATO must respond to any possible threats to its territory.

In terms of coherence across the Middle East, I guess I want to start answering that question with the same point, which is about Russia, is that if the U.S. and Europe fail to tackle the various issues in the Middle East, including the ones that you raised, then we are opening up a space unnecessarily to Russia to have a bigger role.

I do agree that Russia played a very helpful role on getting the Iran deal, and continued to play a role, which was occasionally helpful, in tackling Daesh, or ISIS, but giving them an additional role on Syria I think is potentially a thin end of the wedge that could create more problems for us in the future.

I agree that, you know, dealing with Turkey, dealing with Iran, dealing with Egypt are all complicated, but we do have to deal with the world as we find it. And you could perhaps also mention Saudi Arabia. I don’t know how you would categorize that, but they are certainly a very important power in the Middle East still and we do need to engage them in order to find a solution in Syria as well as in Yemen and elsewhere.

And then, finally, you asked a question about essentially why—I think you were saying why does the U.K. want to take refugees directly from Syria or from the neighboring countries and do the screening there rather than allowing them to come through Europe? And the short answer to that is that we want to be generous but we don’t want to increase the so-called pull factor.

In other words, we don’t want to give yet another reason for refugees to start flowing out of Syria or anywhere else eventually towards the U.K., when our concern has been that Europe collectively had, on occasion, increased the so-called pull factor. We needed to get around that by trying to take people directly from either within Syria or from those neighboring countries. That was the reason.

FEINSTEIN: All right, we have time, I think, for one more question. Yes, please, sir.

Q: Hi. David Preiser.

So I’m keenly interested in the distinction the panel has drawn between migrants and refugees. On the theory that nature pours a vacuum, to what extent does the persistent low birthrates in Europe play a role in this migration as opposed to refugee activity?

SCHUWER: There are a number of countries in Europe who have a very low birthrate. One of them is Germany. I think everybody knows that Germany, I think at present, has 88 million people, and if they go on like this—it’s not a cry for the Germans to close their curtains earlier and start reproducing—(laughter)—but still, if they go on like this they might come close to 80 million in the not-too-distant future.

So yes, we have an aging population in Europe. Countries like France, Italy, Spain are in the same problem. So we need—I won’t say replenishment, but we need, in order to keep our social security systems, which are different than what you have here—in order to keep them viable, we need—let’s put it bluntly: We need taxpayers. We need people who do the work for us and who make our social system that we have built over the years, make that viable.

Implying that Angela Merkel, when she said “Wir schaffen das,” was basically inviting immigrants to come to her country in order to maintain her population rate goes too far for me. I think that there was a genuine feeling of Ms. Merkel that there was also a moral obligation to house people who are refugees and who cannot come—go home.

That’s the fact that there were people coming into Germany who were maybe highly educated and could replenish the workforce was a good deal for some companies. Definitely true. That’s why, let’s say, Germany got close to a million people, which is enormous, and the public outcry in Germany, despite the rise in popularity of the more extreme right-wing parties, has still been subdued. There is not a revolt in Germany despite what you might read in certain newspapers. I think that Angela Merkel is still probably the most popular politician in Germany. But the fact is that if you take in 1 million within a year, it takes time to settle.

In the long run, this might be a good move for Germany. In the long run, to getting a million extra people might be the right move. But, OK, that was—I don’t think, as you can say, that was the reason why Merkel said, bring me a million people.

FEINSTEIN: Well, we are, unfortunately, right at 7:00. There is much more we could talk about. I utterly failed to get any of my ambassadorial colleagues to comment on the American presidential election. (Laughter.) But perhaps we’ll be able to hear more about that later on. But please join me in thanking our panelists. (Applause.)


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